Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

The Alan B. Slifka Middle School helps children make the transition from elementary to high school and from pre-adolescence to adolescence. Recognizing that Middle School students must learn to balance being part of a larger group with their own individuality and the desire for nurturing with the excitement of independence, Heschel creates a setting that supports their growing autonomy while providing the structure necessary to make their school experience meaningful and productive. Their interest in socializing finds outlets in community activities; their need to reflect, criticize, and debate is met through school publications and forums as well as in the classroom; their desire to achieve and perform is realized through sports, musical performances, and theatrical productions.

Middle School students build on their basic skills to acquire information that gives them a solid foundation across the disciplines. The program teaches higher-level research and thinking skills which allow students to select, research, analyze, and interpret topics presented in the classroom.

Along with intellectual growth, the Alan B. Slifka Middle School program emphasizes the students' social, emotional, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual development. A student government allows students to engage the school’s administration and staff in dialogue about how to enhance the quality of life of the school. Students engage in community service projects, and an activities program offers diverse choices ranging from crafts to a student-run newspaper. In addition, students participate in a Human Growth and Development program coordinated by the school psychologist. Meeting in small groups with a faculty member several times each week, students discuss their lives and the life of the community.

Humanities

The Heschel Humanities program integrates English Language Arts with Social Studies, emphasizing interdisciplinary textual analysis and critical thinking skills. The classes challenge students to read deeply, to analyze literature, and to interpret and understand historical texts. Students learn to write by outlining, drafting, receiving and giving feedback, revising, and rewriting. Research is part of the writing program, encouraging students to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources in print and online. Speaking and active listening skills are also refined to encourage higher-level thinking and discussion. Expressive reading and dramatization, both on stage and using technology, allow students to explore the aesthetic dimensions of language and literature while they enhance comprehension. Classes use original source material and integrate Jewish history and culture wherever possible.

Humanities topics include: Ancient Egypt, Medieval Japan, European history, the Russian Revolution, the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights movement, the Holocaust, and the State of Israel.

Math, Science and Technology

Mathematics

The Middle School math program is a pre-algebra/algebra curriculum. Teachers use a variety of texts, manipulative materials, investigations, and projects to introduce and investigate new concepts and to offer students multiple opportunities to master math skills.

The goals of the mathematics curriculum at the Heschel Middle School are 1) to develop students’ confidence and power in applying mathematical processes and principles to real-life and non-routine situations, 2) to assist students in becoming logical problem solvers, 3) to teach students to communicate mathematically, 4) to enhance mathematical knowledge through the use of technology, and 5) to enable students to see the beauty and wonder as well as the practical applications of mathematics in the world around them.

Science and Technology

The science program is a laboratory-based, experiential program that focuses on scientific concepts and research skills. The sixth grade curriculum focuses on human physiology (the skeletal and circulatory systems), electricity, electrical engineering, and aeronautics. The seventh grade science program focuses on physics, engineering/Rube Goldberg machines, game programming and robotics, brain science, and chemistry. The eighth grade program includes chemistry research, computer engineering, microbiology, and genetics.

Judaic Studies

The Middle School Judaic Studies program focuses on texts and contexts, balancing creative and formal approaches in order to make the learning experience personally meaningful and transformative. Students study Jewish texts in the many different stages and styles of Hebrew from Biblical through Rabbinic to contemporary. They search texts for themes of Jewish identity, individual and communal values, human nature, history and Jewish beliefs and practices. Students learn the historical, cultural, sociological and philosophical contexts that inform the Jewish experience both in individual and universal terms. Through their Jewish knowledge, Middle School students become equipped to cultivate a commitment to tikkun olam - the belief in behaviors that repair an imperfect world - by deepening and broadening their self-understanding and responsibility as members of the Jewish people and society as a whole.

Hebrew Language

Hebrew Language classes concentrate on contemporary use of the language with emphasis on four language skills: reading and listening comprehension, and written and oral expression. The materials we use reflect the modern state of Israel during its early formative years up to today. Through original and adapted novels, poems, short stories, newspaper accounts, songs and movies, students are exposed to many views of Israel past and present. The content provides rich opportunities for students to express themselves orally, and they practice higher order thinking skills and critical thinking during those discussions and in writing.

Vocabulary and grammar studies are essential building blocks of the curriculum; they allow students to gradually and continuously develop and achieve greater understanding and expression of the language.

Throughout the program, technology is used to support the development of reading and listening comprehension as well as oral and written expression.

In the advanced level groups of each grade, students participate in an independent reading program in which they read unabridged books outside the classroom. Students choose the book they want to read based on their personal preference from a designated list for their level. They then meet in small groups to discuss what they have read.

Tanakh

Our Tanakh program includes the study of selections from Chumash (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im Rishonim (First Prophets), Nevi’im Achronim (Later Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings).

The Tanakh (Torah, Nevi’im/Prophets and Ketuvim/Writings) is the record of the ancient experiences of the Jewish people, and is considered the sacred foundation literature of the Jewish people. The study of Tanakh in the Middle School is driven by this concept, and our primary goal is to acknowledge the influence that the text has on us as its descendants, as well as the personal and collective struggles that we experience in seeking to understand its meanings. We are committed to teaching our students how to confront the largest questions and concerns of the Tanakh, helping them identify the parts of the text that address them and providing the means to, and the appropriate environment in which they can, articulate their own responses to the text.

The Tanakh is also the record of the ongoing conversation between the many different voices of our people and the many different voices of God. Our goal is to assist and encourage our students in the task of making the text’s voices resonate meaningfully. Alongside the study of the language and style of the biblical texts, the thinking of traditional and modern commentators and scholars is used to further enhance the process of interpreting the many messages of the Tanakh. Students are encouraged to acquire the tools that will enable them to approach a section of Tanakh on their own with confidence, and are also encouraged to join the great interpretive process and tradition when we ask them to recognize the nuances of the text and respond in an original, creative way. Drawing, drama, composing poetry, writing essays and making charts are some of the ways students enrich, personalize, and enliven the study of Tanakh.

Tefillah

Tefillah is a time we meet together in order to contemplate and express how we see ourselves in the world; in relation to the Jewish people past, present and future; and in relation to God. In the Middle School we build community during Tefillah in several different ways. Twice a week (on Torah-reading days, Monday and Thursday) each grade comes together as a full class for Tefillot. Frequently grade-level minyanim feature the in-school Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration of a class member. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, students meet in smaller groups for a short Tefillah. On Fridays Tefillah is longer, offering 6th graders a chance to study a section of Tefillah in more depth, and offering the 7th and 8th graders an opportunity to choose from a variety of Tefillah options, or electives, depending on what different style of Tefillah might interest students most. For example, they may choose from Tefillot that are particularly musical, artistic, or still traditional. And finally, the Torah She'be’al Peh curriculum integrates an in-depth examination and analysis of certain parts of Tefillah.

Torah She’be’al Peh

In Torah She’be’al Peh we learn the rabbinic texts and traditions that are derived from and layered upon the Tanakh. Students consider the ways in which we are continuing a conversation that began more than two millennia ago, whereby we explore and attempt to define what it means to be Jewish and to live a Jewish life.

The Torah She’be’al Peh program in the 6th grade lays the ethical and spiritual groundwork for religious and moral thinking and practice in the Middle School. This course of study also trains students in rabbinic language and thought as well as in philosophical argument.

Seventh Grade Torah She'be’al Peh empowers students as Jewish decision makers with the study of rabbinic texts and ideas, and deepens their understanding of commonly encountered rituals and holidays. Study focuses on the Mishna, the foundational document of Rabbinic Judaism. Students develop their ability to access this ancient text directly, thereby including themselves in the chain of our interpretive tradition. This is what we call Torah She'be'al Peh, the Oral Torah.

Specifically, students study the laws of returning and acquiring lost objects from tractate Baba Metzia, learning the details of these laws and using them as jumping-off points for reflection upon the Jewish legal process. Baba Metzia focuses on ownership and property law in Jewish life, showing how the Rabbis explored the nature of personal responsibility in the context of a larger community. We give careful consideration to the values embedded within the laws; we consider how Jewish jurisprudence embodies the larger themes of our religion and the ways that everyday behaviors can add meaning to our lives.

The Eighth Grade Torah She'be’al Peh curriculum is designed, through the study of classical Jewish texts and commentaries, to explore the themes of physical and spiritual space, as well as ritual practices that have traditionally been central to Jewish life. We examine in depth the Biblical passages and Rabbinic interpretations of the traditional obligation to reside in a Sukkah, which raises the issue of the tension between the permanence and temporariness of physical space. The potential sanctity of physical space is also considered within the context of the mitzvot of Peah (the corners of the field) and Bikkurim (first fruits), which through the fruits of the land show kindness towards others and gratitude towards God. We reflect upon spiritual space and time through our study of the Shema and Shabbat. And finally, we explore in increasingly sophisticated ways the meanings and rituals of each holiday.

The primary selections of text for this course come from Tanakh and Mishna, with selections from the Talmud as well. We emphasize the relationship between text skills and ideas. Each unit is organized around reflective questions such as: Do specific places help build certain relationships? Do we need to connect to the land of Israel to build a relationship with God?

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Since we believe that becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a significant event in the life of the Middle School student, Bar/Bat Mitzvah study is incorporated into the sixth and seventh grade program.

The overarching theme of the program, Jewish identity, is taught in the context of more than one subject:

Torah Sheb’al Peh, in which the study of classical rabbinic texts provides students with opportunities to explore the Jewish ritual/ethical behaviors called mitzvot;

• Human Growth and Development, in which students discuss and clarify personal, ethical and behavioral standards;

• Hebrew language arts, in which students read literature about the people and land of Israel;

• and social studies, in which students do primary source research into their own family backgrounds.

We bring these strands of study together in a class tzedakah (charitable deeds) project. Students have the opportunity to celebrate becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah with their families during Middle School Tefillot.

Arts and Electives

Art, music, and theater are key curricular components of the Middle School and integral parts of both the Judaic and General Studies programs. Specialists work closely with classroom teachers to inform and enhance classroom activities.

Art

The Heschel School values the arts. There is a deep understanding that making art generates a means of expression that helps students reflect on, interpret, and give meaning to their experience of themselves, their world, and their place in this world. The Middle School art program is designed to develop visual thinkers and encourage creative problem solving while stimulating students' desire to explore, discover, and use their imaginations, challenging students to think critically about art and ideas and to reach new possibilities in their thinking fostering a lifelong interest appreciation and understanding of the visual arts. The Middle School Art program provides rich, supportive, and challenging lessons that motivate adolescents. The students use materials such as paint, paper, clay, ink, pencils, wire and found objects, all of which both invite reflection and act as vehicles for shaping meaning.

6th Grade: Exploration of materials
In 6th grade, students experiment with various materials and use different tools. Through this exploration the students learn various manipulative/technical skills while developing confidence in selecting and using materials to create their artwork.

7th Grade: Figure Study
In 7th grade, students continue to increase their exploration of various materials and tools, primarily through a year-long figure study. Throughout the year they work with paper, paint, watercolor, clay, wire and found objects to explore blind-contour, contour, and gesture drawing, as well as negative space, and proportion.

8th Grade: Art History Unit

In 8th grade, students have are introduced to Art History by studying modern art/artists from Impressionism through Pop Art.Through examining, discussing and creating works of art, they learn the multiple dimensions through which works of art can be understood, appreciated, valued and critiqued--both those made by self and by other artists. Students study the history of art and the many and different ways human beings have shaped and expressed their ideas about self and world.

Music

The music program at the Heschel Middle School helps students to become component musicians, with solid skills in reading music and playing in an ensemble group. In the 6th grade students learn to play a band instrument (flute, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, or drums). In 7th grade students continue to play in a band ensemble or choose to join a choral music class; the focus is on following a conductor and improving ensemble skills. Eighth graders may continue advanced ensemble work or advanced choral work—in preparation for performances throughout the school year.


Theater

Drama is offered as an elective program for students in all middle school grades, working toward a musical production (recent shows have included “Annie, Jr” and “The Wizard of Oz”). In addition, full-scale dramatic performances take place in sixth grade (a one-hour Hebrew play focusing on the sites and experiences of the land and people of Israel) and in the seventh grade (a full-scale Shakespeare play).


Electives and Clubs

Electives are an integral part of the Middle School program, providing opportunities for students to work intensively in the arts or to study a topic beyond its coverage in the core curriculum. Each student participates in one elective. Among the electives are: creative writing, school newspaper, art, music, yoga, film appreciation, school newspaper, Talmud, Hesed club.

Human Growth and Development

HG&D, as it is known throughout the school, engages students in activities and discussions on subjects important to their stage of social and emotional development. Themes covered during the three years of Middle School include: bystander education, Internet safety and behavior, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, conflict resolution, social problem solving, media literacy, resiliency-building skills, exploring gender roles, positive body image, and sex education.

Physical Education

The physical education curriculum is a comprehensive program of health-related fitness which enables students to recognize and maximize their personal fitness level. The physical aspect of the program imparts basic skills at age appropriate levels of ability, teaching students to perform fitness activities safely and successfully. The program aspires to teach and inspire students to take an active interest in their own health and well-being. The teaching of and appreciation for sportsmanship and fair play is paramount as we engage in sports and games. The Middle School offers a range of after-school sports activities and teams including: cross-country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, tennis, and track.